13 November 2013
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”: Good vs. Evil
Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most astounding writers of early American short fiction. This author “also wrote some of the finest short fiction in American literature” (Werlock, par. 1). One of his famous short stories is called “Young Goodman Brown”. This story first appeared in print in 1835 (Ellis, par. 28). The story takes place in the Puritan time period in the seventeenth century. This is the time where many innocent women were on trial for having been witches. The author provides “commentary on not only the Salem of his own time but also the Salem of his ancestors” (McCabe, par. 2). This reflects on his life but also his ancestors. Hawthorne uses symbolism, conflict, and setting to bring forth a story that is based on human nature and the dispute between good and evil. This theme is one of the classic themes during this time period. It’s about a man that has to choose between good or evil some time in his life. This goes way back to Adam and Eve.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts (Werlock, par 1). This town had “exerted a powerful shaping influence on his work” (Ellis, par 5). He had a personal connection with the trials, being a descendant of one of Salem's prominent judges who sentenced several witches to death. Hawthorne’s own great-great grandfather was one of three judges that presided over the Salem Witch Trials (“Nathaniel Hawthorne Biography”). His great-great grandfather was John Hathorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne brought along a good deal of baggage to this story because it dealt with his ancestors. Hawthorne viewed his “Puritan ancestors with a mixture of pride and guilt” (Shoemaker, par 2). He did not like the family line he came from. He even changed his last name by adding a “W” so that people would “distinguish him (sic) from the history which included John Hathorne” (The European Graduate School). He did not like that he was connected to so much evil. Hawthorne wrote “Young Goodman Brown” to describe how life was in Salem during the 17th century; during the time of his Puritan ancestors.
Hawthorne makes extensive uses of symbolism throughout the story to show the evil that is in the town of Salem during this period in history. The symbolism throughout "Young Goodman Brown" is mainly spiritual in nature. The best indication of this is shown as Brown follows the devil on the evil path and is demonstrated by Brown losing his Faith. The devil’s walking-staff, for instance, is one of the major symbols in this story. When Goodman saw the staff he described it as “the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent” (Hawthorne 450). The reference to the staff comes from the Bible symbol of the snake as the devil. In this Biblical reference, the snake tempts Eve to taste the fruit from the forbidden tree. The snake said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (English Standard Version, Gen. 3.1). The book of Genesis states, “The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made” (Gen. 3.1). The Devil in the story is also trying to tempt Brown to join his followers by saying, “I have been as well acquainted with your family” (Hawthorne 450). He tells Goodman Brown about his ancestors and how they were all his good friends. The devil presented his staff to Brown but Brown denied it. Later on Brown acknowledges the staff, which symbolizes evil. The staff leads to destruction. This represents the beginning of Brown’s consent to the evil in his world.
In Young Goodman Brown there are many conflict but there is one that stands out the most. It is Brown’s internal conflict about indecision about which path he will take in life. The conflict with “Faith at the beginning of the story also marks the